Biochar in broiler feed

Last changed: 08 December 2023
Close up of small chicken with more chicks behind. Photo.

Today biochar is mainly used as a soil amendment. In animal husbandry, biochar can be used as an additive in bedding to bind water and nutrients and thereby reduce emission of ammonia from the bedding. Another option is to add the biochar (already) to the animals' feed. In this project, we aim to provide scientific evidence that will help Swedish chicken farmers to determine whether it is justified to add biochar to chicken feed.

Biochar has the ability to bind mycotoxins and anti-nutritional substances in feed and can also bind to certain bacteria that are undesirable for chickens. Biochar can thus contribute to the development of a stable and well-functioning environment in the chicken gut. A healthy, well-functioning intestine is important for chicken robustness, especially as a large part of the chicken's immune system develops in and originates from the intestinal mucosa. International studies indicate that biochar in chicken feed may improve litter quality and increase chicken growth, and improved intestinal health and nutrient utilization are mentioned as possible explanations for this. However, there is a risk that the biochar may bind to nutrients in the chicken's gut, leading to impaired utilization of the nutrients in the feed. The inclusion levels and properties of the biochar probably play a major role for the outcome. Raw material and temperature in the production of biochar have a major impact on the biochar's ability to bind water and nutrients. 

In an initial chicken trial, the effects of different inclusion levels of biochar on growth, feed efficacy, immune status, vitamin up-take and also on bacteria dominating in the gastrointestinal tract will be studied. The amount of ammonia emitted from manure will also be monitored. The study will provide answers to what is an optimal inclusion level of biochar in a broiler diet. Thereafter, we move on to evaluate whether a diet with optimal inclusion of biochar, according to the initial trial, can alleviate symptoms in chickens affected by coccidiosis. Coccidiosis is caused by the intestinal parasite Eimeria, which is common in poultry.

Project manager:

Helena Wall (Department of Animal Nutrition and Management, HUV),

Project group:

Eva Wattrang (SVA), Robert Söderlund (SVA), Kristina Mjöfors (RISE Research Institutes of Sweden AB), Anna Silvera (Svensk Fågel), Maja Hoffer (Lantmännen Lantbruk), Søren Krogh Jensen (Aarhus University) & Emma Ivarsson (HUV).


What is biochar?

Similar to regular charcoal, biochar is produced by pyrolysis (oxygen-free combustion), but at a higher temperature and by incomplete combustion resulting in a more stable coal. Because biochar breaks down more slowly than the organic material from which it is produced, biochar in soil acts as a carbon sink. Biochar is currently used mainly as a soil amendment because it increases the soil's water holding capacity and binds nutrients for a longer period of time. In fertilizers, biochar reduces the loss of ammonia, which is positive for the nutritional value of the fertilizer and the global environment.



The project runs 2023-2025 and is financed by Swedish farmers’ foundation for agricultural research.